Then I saw, and behold! A white cloud, and upon the cloud one sitting in form and appearance like the Son of Humanity,[1] having upon His head a golden diadem and in His hand a sharp and swift sickle.

And another angel came out of the sanctuary, crying out in a mighty voice to the One sitting upon the cloud,

“Thrust Your sickle and reap, for the hour has come to reap, for the harvest of earth is ripened.”

And so, the One sitting upon the cloud thrust His sickle over the earth and the earth was harvested.

Then another angel came out of the sanctuary that is in heaven, also having a sharp and swift sickle.

And another angel came out of the altar, the one having jurisdiction over the fire, and shouted in a mighty voice to the one having the sharp and swift sickle, saying,

“Send your sharp and swift sickle and gather the clusters of grapes of earth’s vine, for [earth’s] grapes are at their prime, fully ripe.”

Then the angel thrust his sickle into the earth, and harvested the earth’s vine, and cast into the massive winepress of the passionate fury of God.

Then the winepress was trampled on outside of the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the bridles of the horses, for a thousand six hundred stadiōn.

Revelation 14:14-20

One στάδιος | stadios, called a “stade” in English, equals about 600 feet or 180 meters. So, 1,600 stadiōn (“stades”) is about 184 miles or 296 kilometers.

By Auftraggeber: Otto III. oder Heinrich II. – Bamberger Apokalypse Folio 37 recto, Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, MS A. II. 42, Public Domain

To be honest, I had to take a break after reading through this passage.

Agony and Anger

Also, I think I would not have been able to understand this vision really at all without having first read Reading While Black, by Esau McCaulley.

In this book is a very important chapter entitled, “What Shall We Do With This Rage?” McCaulley describes the really wretched treatment Black people have experienced in the United States, from the time they were

“… mercilessly dragged from our native land and flung to the far ends of the world to be beaten, bred, raped, and degraded. Families were ripped apart and all the doors of opportunity were closed to us. We were despised and rejected by men, seen as cursed and abandoned by God.”

Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black, p. 121

Not too far off from the experiences of first and second century Christians, listening to John’s Apocalypse.

McCaulley writes of “an anger born of powerlessness,” of a “cry to the only one who is left to right these wrongs, God” (p123). It is out of this powerless anger, this plea for justice, the so-called imprecatory Psalms are born, particularly Psalm 137. You and I as readers must somehow be able to step into the shoes of that agony and anger, that longing for justice, before we can attempt to understand what John was describing.

That the winepress is trampled, and the blood pours forth in this enormous river of red, tells us something of what was happening among believers of that day. They were being trampled, and their blood was freely shed.

And so was Jesus’s blood.

Douce Apocalypse – Bodleian Ms180 | By Anonymous – [1], Public Domain

The Blood of Christ

In his Gospel, John drew attention to the flow of blood and water when Jesus’s side was pierce, proving he had died on the cross.

“… one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.

John 19:34 (NRSV, italics mine)

Later, John returned to that flow of blood.

“This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood.

“And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree. 

1 John 5:6-8 (NRSV, italics mine)

The Water

Jesus’ baptism, the inauguration of His public ministry, is affirmed by both the Holy Spirit and the voice of God giving unmistakable testimony Jesus is God’s Son, Messiah, the Lamb of God, and the Holy One of God.

The Blood

There is one other really significant reference to blood in John’s account, that acted as a watershed for Jesus’s supporters, students, and disciples.

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.

John 6:53-57 (NRSV, emphases mine)

In view of the cross, the blood pours forth as expiation for humankind’s sin, which is confirmed in Jesus’s resurrection. The blood is also eternal life (you can read more about that here).

God’s testimony, both through the miracle of Jesus’s feeding five thousand men and their families (when Jesus gave his discourse on blood), and through the supernatural displays surrounding Jesus’s death (the darkened sky, the temple curtain torn, the dead shaken from their graves), give the blood its testimony.

The Harvest of the World, By Jacobello Alberegno | Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain

So, what if the winepress is also the cross?

The Cross of Christ

Imagine, for a moment, that the winepress of God’s wrath is also about Jesus. Jesus wields the sickle and Jesus is also the clusters of grapes cast into the winepress of God’s wrath, and it is Jesus Who is trampled, Jesus Whose blood flows across the world, covering all the sins.

I turn again to McCaulley’s insightful book.

“What is God’s first answer to Black suffering (and the wider human suffering and the rage that comes alongside it)? It is to enter that suffering alongside us as a friend and a Redeemer.

“The Christian tradition says that the innocent one suffered for us individually and corporately to bring us to God (Gal 2:20; Rom 4:25) …. It is only by looking at our enemies through the lens of the cross that we can begin to imagine the forgiveness necessary for community. What do Black Christians do with the rage that we rightly feel? We send it to the cross of Christ.”

Esau McCaulley, Reading While Black, pp. 130-31

In the same way, I read this passage through the lens of the cross.

Whatever this passage may mean in concrete terms for its intended audience, it was as if the Lord were saying, “I hear your cries, and I see your pain. I have not forgotten you. All the horror visited upon you will be made right, there will come a balance of justice.

“Remember that I Myself have borne your suffering in my Body, through My shed blood you are set free,

through My torn flesh you may enter the Holy of Holies in heaven.”

By Meister Bertram von Minden – V&A museum, Public Domain

[1] The traditional way to translate this phrase from the Greek “uion tou anthropou” is “Son of Man.” This is because “Man” connoted “humankind” for a few centuries in the English language. Interestingly, in Middle English, the female version of “man” was “wimman” or “wifman,” our modern-day “woman.” The male version of “man” was “werman.” This left the word “man” as truly neutral, referring to male and female alike as humans.

However, at some point the prefix “wer” fell away, so that “man” came to mean both male humans and humans in general.

Today, being more sensitive to the implications of using the male version of human as standing in for all humans, more and more people are making the intentional effort to use more accurate language when translating. In this case, “anthropos” in Greek is the neutral term denoting humankind (like “anthropology,” the study of people). If a male term is desired, the Greek uses “aner/andros.”

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